May 032019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

joni mitchell covers

Joni Mitchell is 75 and won’t be with us forever. She suffered an aneurysm in 2015, and she’s coping with the little-understood Morgellons disease. She has difficulty walking, and has not spoken publicly in years. But if her place on earth is tenuous, her place in the heavens is secure; millions of people already look up to her every day.

Joni Mitchell’s songs are famous for being intensely personal, a deep expression of her self that people nevertheless relate to. Those who aspire to her voice become near-slavish devotees. There’s a great New Yorker piece about a small show of Joni’s that a drunken Chrissie Hynde gets overly caught up in (“That’s a REAL singer up there!”), and Hynde’s not alone. Mitchell isn’t just a real singer, though. She’s a real songwriter, a real painter, a real guitarist, a real follower of her muse – a real artist, one of the realest of the past hundred years. That authenticity is what continues to bring people into her circle on a daily basis.

In an excellent essay for NPR, Ann Powers wrote: “Like her prime compatriots Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and her favorite protégé Prince, no one can adequately echo her; even great singers, taking on her songbook, admit they can only hope to achieve proximity.” Indeed, a Joni Mitchell cover is never just a tribute – it’s an assertion, an artist coming forth to pick up a gauntlet she lay down decades ago.

We found 30 covers that show the artists doing an especially good job at matching their talents to Joni’s, creating new works of art that, no matter how novel or innovative they may be, never set out to eradicate the original artist’s signature. May her art continue to open eyes, whether through her own performances or those of others, for centuries to come.

Jan 252017
 
leonard cohen tribute

Last night, Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg held an epic Leonard Cohen tribute show, bringing together Cohen’s peers and younger admirers for a 22-song blowout of tribute covers. From a killer instrumental opener of “Hallelujah” by Delicate Steve – a smart move, getting that out of the way up front with a left-field guitar version that doesn’t attempt to compete with Jeff Buckley – the sold-out crowd sang along to Cohen many profound lyrics, and a few of his profound ones too (Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group led a rousing holler through Cohen’s dumbest song, “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On”).

Many of performers had personal Cohen stories to share. “I met Leonard Cohen at a BBC session in 1967 – but I can’t remember anything about it,” Richard Thompson quipped, while Josh Ritter told a yarn about chasing Cohen down an alley backstage only to run headfirst into a truck and miss his once chance. Richard’s son Teddy Thompson recalled Cohen once asking him what he was working on. When he replied that he was making a country album, Cohen said cryptically, “I went country myself, once…” Thompson then covered one of Cohen’s most country songs, “Ballad of the Absent Mare.” Continue reading »

Nov 142016
 
leonard-cohen-wight-1970

On Friday, we posted our tribute to Leonard Cohen, calling him maybe the greatest gift to cover songs ever. Many musicians agreed over the weekend, covering his songs across the world in live shows. We’ve rounded up a bunch below, from Coldplay, Norah Jones, Okkervil River, The Avett Brothers, Car Seat Headrest, and more.

The biggest surprise: Not many people picked the most obvious choice, “Hallelujah.” It seemed so perfect that I saw at least one person on Twitter begging musicians to pick something – anything – else to cover, and they listened. I figured it would dominate even more than “Purple Rain” did when Prince died, but perhaps many felt intimidated by the iconic Jeff Buckley and John Cale versions. It also might seem a daunting song to really sell, particularly if you just learned it in the tour bus (one of the only bands who did cover it: Styx). Continue reading »

Mar 152013
 

In the second installment of their four-part “State Songs” series, A.V. Club and the state of Texas have Jonathan Meiburg (of Shearwater and Okkervil River) taking on Roy Orbison‘s classic “It’s Over.” Unlike our beloved A.V. Undercover, the series isn’t specifically a cover series; it’s just our incredible luck that a cover is what Meiburg chose to play. Continue reading »

Aug 212012
 

Over the past three decades, Bill Fay was, as he refers to it now, “deleted.” His albums went out-of-print; his music was forgotten by the very few who knew it in the first place, and his legacy seemed destined for the 25-cent bargain bin.

It’s a good narrative, and it’s mostly true. One group, though, never forgot Fay. Like-minded musicians twenty years his junior carried the torch throughout his absence with covers and shout-outs. Jeff Tweedy and Wilco led the pack, covering “Be Not so Fearful” in concert regularly over the years, even once dragging the reclusive Fay himself onstage. Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus titled a song “Bill Fay” (though he later changed it to “Share the Red”). Continue reading »

Dec 162011
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

In the week after John Lennon’s death, the universal outpouring of grief obscured a significant anniversary; his first post-Beatles album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, had been released on December 11, 1970 – ten years, almost to the day, before Mark David Chapman shot him. It was an anniversary rarely noted at the time; those who gathered outside the Dakota were more ready to sing of giving peace a chance and imagining all the people than they were to sing lines like “They hurt you at home and they hit you at school” or “The dream is over.” Continue reading »